Enter the fifth generation wireless network, our smart cities fast track

Tue, 2018-09-25 18:13 -- Adam Beck

Fast download speeds are just the start, as the fifth-generation wireless network fast-tracks the “smart city”. As drone deliveries and driverless cars, remote surgeries and automated factories take off, what does 5G mean for property?

“5G is a big leap in wireless communications that will open up a world in which everything can communicate with each other,” says Channa Seneviratne, executive director of network infrastructure engineering at Telstra.

5G, which will supplement rather than supersede today’s 4G networks, will radically improve the bandwidth, capacity and reliability of mobile broadband, Seneviratne says. Thousands of small antennae will be packed into cell towers, utility poles and buildings, pushing mobile speeds from 100 Mbps to upward of 10 Gbps.

As billions of IoT products go online – from fitness monitors to smart fridges – they will send massive amounts of data through 5G networks.

Fortnite fans will be set free on 5G – and it’s true that the technology will support immersive entertainment, gaming and e-sports. But what happens when buildings, cars, people and objects can talk to each other?

Seneviratne says 5G networks will “bring the smart city to life”.

We’ll see more Internet of Things devices such as phones, fridges and lights connecting to one another and 5G will optimise services of everything from smart bins and intelligent lighting to drove deliveries and remote surgery.

Seneviratne says 5G is fundamental to autonomous cars, for instance, because “AVs will be able to connect with everything around them – traffic lights, road signs and wearables – and make better safety decisions as a result.”

Drones can operate over 4G today, but the super-high reliability and low latency of 5G will enable more sophisticated applications, like autonomous drones that can adapt behaviour based on real-time data inputs.


Building a 5G future

Andrew Maher, Aurecon’s chief digital officer, says the property industry will need to develop strategies for how properties interact with 5G.

“5G’s high frequency wave doesn’t penetrate buildings as easily as 4G. To maximise 5G, we will need to think about how to network buildings to enable the technology to permeate.”

Maher says building owners will no longer be able to think of their property in isolation.

“We’ve started thinking about how we harvest and distribute energy within a precinct. In much the same way, we’ll have to think about how we use technology.”

“5G is about data. It promotes machine-to-machine communication, enabling much more data to move around. This means many more devices, especially in our cities,” Maher adds.

Those devices need to go somewhere. While 5G will eliminate blue cables, we can expect a “proliferation of IoT sensors, cameras and antennas on every street,” says Chris Isles, executive director of planning for Place Design Group.

Isles is passionate about “curating” the built environment. He says 5G technology will reshape the way citizens interact with cities, but we need to be thinking about how this is expressed at the street level.

When 5G technology is combined with driverless cars and dockless bikes, drones and digital advertising, Isles is worried that our streets are facing “death by a thousand cuts”.

“How we curate and build so that our streets don’t become forgotten wastelands of technology is a big challenge.”

Isles says there’s a real opportunity for city-shapers and telecommunications companies to work together to “co-locate digital infrastructure”. Imagine reinventing street infrastructure – bus shelters, park benches and garbage bins for example – as high-tech hubs.

“Cities could gain free WiFi for residents and a percentage of revenue earned on digital advertising. Street infrastructure can move from a cost and maintenance burden to a source of revenue,” Isles explains.


Firing up for 5G

Are we designing spaces to accommodate 5G? Not at the moment, Maher says.

“This is going to come very quickly – so don’t get caught out. If you go into this blindly without testing, you could create your own blackspot,” Maher warns.

In February Telstra opened a 5G Innovation Centre on the Gold Coast to support the early commercial deployment of 5G mobile services, and Seneviratne emphasises the power of partnerships as Telstra gears up for the rollout of 5G in 2019.

“We want to work with the property industry to understand its problems and help solve them using 5G. We want to co-solve and co-create together.”